A career in coffee. How does this sound to you? In many countries it even doesn’t exist. I mean, what exactly is it? Just making coffee? How can this be a career?
In many consuming countries a “coffee career” means just working at a cafè as waiting staff and that’s it. There is no such a thing as a career in coffee, the word barista doesn’t exist too. The person responsible for the coffee drinks is also responsible for everything else at the food and beverage outlet, the system is rather primitive. The development of the coffee industry (and many other industries) is minimal. Professions as a coffee roaster, cupper or a barista trainer are out of the question, because nobody knows how to become one (or there’s no awareness for such a profession) . It is funny, jobs like these are being thought of as being a fashion model or a pop star – there is this uncertainty and at the end you’re very likely not to become one.
In other countries is a bit different – there is still lack of clarity how to obtain a profession like a coffee roaster for example, but there is also slightly more understanding as to what being a barista means – developing a broader understanding and knowledge about coffee; developing skills – technical and sensory (dialing in grinders, tamping properly, foaming milk, pouring latte art); developing intrapersonal skills; having food and beverage management skills. It is definitely not just making coffee. It is weird how little significance is given to people working as baristas and even service people as waiters and waitresses. They are the backbone of the successful food&beverage operations, they are the salespeople, it almost depends solely on them if the customers are going to return.
Once you are in the industry it’s more than certain that opportunities will pop up along your way, or why not making your own? I don’t want to sound naive, but there are national and world competitions (Barista, Brewers Cup, Latte Art, Aeropress, Cup Tasters Championships) amazing festivals and trade shows, interesting seminars, workshops, courses and huge events all about coffee, where you can go meet people and get in touch with the industry. Look at Room 409, the blog is like an opportunity factory and it’s a perfect excuse to go everywhere and speak to whoever you want to. That’s happening only if you want it to happen of course, you have to have enthusiasm and passion to do these things. There is something very special about our industry, I haven’t met a coffee person who doesn’t love their job. I think that’s mostly because let’s say it, there’s not much money in making coffee, the industry is not lucrative enough to be used solely for money making. People who are in coffee usually have some connection with it.
James Hoffmann pointed out during his talk on NBC 2012 How to make a viable career in coffee that the industry lacks transparency. Yes that is true, it is not like working in the hospitality industry for example. Hotels usually have these organizational charts from which employees can see where they are and where they’re going. The goal might be to become a general manager of a hotel and a chart shows all the steps that need to be gone through. In that sense, we can say hospitality is safe. It gives you the comfort of knowing. Coffee does not. At least for now.